Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Auf Flügeln des Gesanges: Romantic songs and piano transcriptions

Christoph Prégardien, Cyprien Katsaris - Challenge Records
Auf Flügeln des Gesanges: Romantic songs and piano transcriptions; Christoph Prégardien, Cyprien Katsaris Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 November 2018 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A beautifully imaginative disc which pairs each song with its own piano transcription, from Liszt's Schubert, to Clara Schumann's transcription of her husband, to Gerald Moore's Brahms

This disc combines the talents of two great performers in two different yet related art forms. Auf Flügeln des Gesanges: Romantic songs and piano transcriptions on Challenge Records sees tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Cyprien Katsaris performing a series of songs by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Clara Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Wolf,  Richard Strauss and Theodor Kirchner, alongside piano transcriptions of the song by Liszt, Leopold Godowsky, Clara Schumann, August Stradal, Burno Hinze-Reinhold, Walter Gieseking, Theodor Kirchner, Eduard Schutt and Gerald Moore.

The public song recital is a relatively recent phenomenon, and song was often a more domestic genre with public recitals tending to be mixed song and instrumental. It was Liszt's example which transferred song to the concert hall via the piano transcription. So whilst it might not seem an obvious course to us, transcribing a song for voice and piano for just piano, it was an established part of 19th century repertoire, and the melding of melody and accompaniment allowed for quite an element of discreet bravura in the piano.

Christoph Prégardien and Cyprien Katsaris have worked together before, on Schubert's Die Winterreise, but this programme gives both of them their solo spotlight. Throughout the disc I was very aware of Katsaris as very much a partner, his piano accompaniments take a strong character of their own, one which complements the singer and very much creates a discreet whole, even in the songs where the piano's role is relatively straight-forward.

We start with Schubert's Die Forelle, and immediately I enjoyed the way Prégardien sings on the edge of the voice, bringing out the words to the ultimate extent. Whilst their vocal qualities are rather different, the singer that he most reminded me of was in fact Peter Pears. For Liszt's transcription of the song, we have Schubert's melody and accompaniment, but Liszt makes rather more dazzle with them. Katsaris beautifully suggests foreground and background, and as the verses develop so Liszt gives us some real dazzle in the piano textures, delightful. 'Liebesbotschaft' from Schwanengesang is quite light and touching, with the piano part flowing like water, and Godowsky's transcription embeds Schubert's melody in this water flow, creating quite a mellow sound.

Mendelssohn's Auf Flügeln des Gesanges is a gorgeous Romantic melody, though of course he ignores the edge to Heine's verse entirely, but given such a lovely melody we forgive him. Prégardien floats a beautiful line, yet even here does not neglect the words and Katsaris' piano flows delicately. (I don't know whether it is accident or design, but quite a number of the earlier songs on the disc have finely flowing piano accompaniments). Liszt's transcription creates quite a mellow effect, placing the melody in the centre of the delicate accompaniment and then developing each verse.

'Frühlingsnacht' from Schumann's Liederkreis Op.39 is wonderfully impulsive, with Katsaris giving the piano part a very definite character of its own. Clara Schumann's transcription of her husband's song is from a collection of 30 that she did, presumably to include in her own recitals as she was a keen promoter of her husband's work. It is quite a straightforward transcription, but the way melody and accompaniment are combined gives the pianist the opportunity for some discreetly bravura moments. Clara Schumann's playing was never showy, in the manner of Liszt, and you get an impression of that here. Her own song 'Gehimes Flüstern hier und dort' comes from Sechs Lieder Op.23 from 1853. It is rather lyrical, quite Schumann-esque in style, with a sense of understated passion and a delicate piano part. Liszt's transcription really captures the mood of the song, and it is lovely the way the melody is embedded in the light accompaniment.

Liszt's own Im Rhein, im schönen Strome is quite dramatic, with Prégardien giving quite a direct performance supported by the rather gentle flow of the piano (the river definitely in quieter mood). His own transcription of the song is very much about the flow of the piano texture rather than the vocal melody, and the transcription seems to become more dramatic and more bravura than the original song.

'Träume' from Richard Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder receives a finely intimate performance, with Wagner's distinctive harmonic style prefiguring Tristan und Isolde very much in evidence. This is not an operatic performance, the two performers giving us very much a song in intimate surroundings. August Stradal's transcription  has a somewhat lusher texture and successfully re-invents the song as a Romantic piano miniature. Stradal was a Czech pianist and arranger, a student of Bruckner's Stradal arranged some of Bruckner's symphonies for piano!

Hugo Wolf's Anakreons Grab is also given quite an intimate performance, yet with rich chromatics in the piano, and the two performers give us a sense of time suspended. Bruno Hinze-Rehinhold's Idylle after Anakreons Grab capitalises on this richly romantic piano texture. Richard Strauss' Freundiche Vision from Fünf Lieder, Op.48 is quietly intense and rather magical, with Prégardien demonstrating a lovely ease in the vocal line. Walter Gieseking's version is described as a free arrangement, but it is very much a song transcription, with the melody placed against the accompaniment in the piano texture.

Theodor Kirchner was a friend of Johannes Brahms, Robert and Clara Schumann (and in fact he and Clara had a brief affair after Robert's death).  His 'Frühlingslied' from 10 Lieder Op. 1 has a Brahmsian charm which comes over in Kirchner's unshowy transcription of his song. Johannes Brahms 'Agnes' from Acht Lieder un Gesange Op.59 is rather more darkly dramatic, to which Prégardien and Katsaris give a lovely melancholic glow. Kirchner's transcription successfully re-invents the song as a rather Brahmsian intermezzo. Brahms' 'Vergebliches Stanchen' from Fünf Romanzen und Lieder Op.84 is delightfully characterful and positively skittish. Eduard Schütt's transcription is in fact a paraphrase, so we quickly move from straight transcription into something more pianistically bravura and in fact start to stray quite a long way from Brahms, though the result is truly delightful.

The final work on the disc is Brahms' Wiegenlied which is heard sung in a beautifully shaped and highly artful performance, and then in a transcription by the great accompanist Gerald Moore.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) - Die Forelle, Op. 32, D. 530
Franz Schubert, Franz Liszt (1810-1886) - 6 Melodien von Franz Schubert, S. 563 No. 6: Die Forelle (1st version)
Franz Schubert - Schwanengesang, D. 957 No. 1: Liebesbotschaft
Franz Schubert, Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) - Transcription of Liebesbotschaft
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) - 6 Gesänge, Op. 34 No. 2: Auf Flugeln des Gesanges
Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Liszt - Mendelssohns Lieder, S. 547 No. 1: Auf Flu?geln des Gesanges
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) - Liederkreis, Op. 39 No. 12: Fruhlingsnacht
Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann (1819-1896) - 30 Lieder und Gesänge von Robert Schumann No. 28: Fruhlingsnacht
Clara Schumann - 6 Lieder, Op. 23 No. 3: Geheimes Flustern hier und dort
Clara Schumann, Franz Liszt - Lieder von Robert und Clara Schumann, S. 569 No. 10: Geheimes Flustern hier und dort
Franz Liszt - Im Rhein, im schönen Strome (2nd version), S. 272
Franz Liszt - Buch der Lieder I, S. 531 No. 2: Im Rhein, im schönen Strome
Richard Wagner (1813-1883) - 5 Gedichte fur eine Frauenstimme (Wesendonck-Lieder), WWV 91 No. 5: Träume
Richard Wagner, August Stradal (1860-1930) - Transcription of Träume
Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)- Anakreons Grab
Hugo Wolf, Bruno Hinze-Reinhold (1877-1964) - 10 Piano Pieces after Hugo Wolf Lieder No. 6: Idylle after Anakreons Grab
Richard Struass (1864-1949)- 5 Lieder, Op. 48 No. 1: Freundliche Vision
Richard Strauss, Walter Gieseking (1895-1956) - Free arrangement of Freundliche Vision
Theodor Kirchner (1823-1903) - 10 Lieder, Op. 1 No. 4: Fruhlingslied
Theodor Kirchner - 10 Klavierstucke nach eigenen Liedern, Op. 19 No. 10: Fruhlingslied
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) - 8 Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 59 No. 5: Agnes
Johannes Brahms, Theodor Kirchner - Transcription of Agnes
Johannes Brahms - 5 Romanzen und Lieder, Op. 84 No. 4: Vergebliches Ständchen
Johannes Brahms, Theodor Kirchner - Paraphrase of Vergebliches Ständchen
Johannes Brahms - 5 Lieder, Op. 49 No. 4: Wiegenlied
Johannes Brahms, Gerald Moore (1899-1987) - Transcription of Wiegenlied
Christoph Prégardien  (tenor)
Cyprien Katsaris (piano)
Recorded at Eglise Evangelique Saint-Marcel, Paris, 4-8 March 2018
CHALLENGE RECORDS CC72787 1CD [72.26]

Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
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  • Rare Tchaikovsky and Smyth: an earlier version of the piano concerto and Smyth's large-scale mass at the Barbican  (★★★★) - concert review
  • Elgar, Finzi, Parry, Walton from a different angle: arrangements for brass septet  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Love & Prayer: Nadine Benjamin debut solo album (★★★★) - CD review
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  • Otherwordly concerns: Anderswelt - Marlis Petersen and Camillo Radicke in late-Romantic lieder (★★★★) - CD review
  • Late genius and two sextets: Strauss, Haydn and Brahms at Conway Hall  (★★★½)  - concert review
  • Iconic but flawed: La Bayadère the Royal Ballet  - ballet review
  • Reformation Remainers: Musicians, zealots and loyalists in Tudor England at BREMF - concert review
  • In Remembrance - choral discs commemorating the centenary of the Armistice  - CD review
  • Spirito: Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka in bel canto scenes (★★★★½) - CD review
  • A Mahler Piano Series: Echoes of the East  (★★★½) - concert review
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